Adolf Hitler had to be charming in private and charismatic in public; he was a politician. How else would he have won such loyalty from his inner circle and the German population? Downfall provides a much-needed reminder that a leader given "a mandate" by the voters, as Joseph Goebbels says in the film, can be nice to dogs and small children even as he commits great sins against humanity. But director Oliver Hirschbiegel's picture does much more than that. One of the most expensive ever made in Germany, it's as good a war epic as has ever been filmed. Almost the entire film takes place in April 1945, when the Russian army had encircled Berlin and was tightening its grip block by block. The filmmakers are less interested in the strategy of the military endgame than in the psychology of people coming to grips with the failure of a cause they had believed in and worked for so wholeheartedly. Juggling multiple characters and plot lines with rare finesse, the movie cuts from tense meetings inside Hitler's bunker to the mayhem and carnage on the streets of Berlin outside. Star Bruno Ganz, the finest actor to come out of the German New Wave, plays the Führer as an ideologically blinded leader who is all the scarier because he is so human.
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